Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has advised him to introduce a concept like the ‘Zero Hour’ during Cabinet meetings where he will get to hear only the negative feedback about the government. Sarma met the Prime Minister in New Delhi on Wednesday.
“In the Cabinet, ministers will compile all the negative feedback (collected from MLAs) and give it to a senior minister. Then I will join the Cabinet and the senior minister will explain only the negative things about the government, so that we can immediately take remedial action,” Sarma said Wednesday at The Indian Express e.Adda moderated by National Opinions Editor Vandita Mishra.
Sarma said the Prime Minister had drawn this from his experience as the Chief Minister in Gujarat. “Modiji said he did it in Gujarat, so I should start that practice in Assam. He said, ’Achcha bolne wala toh tumko bahut milega, lekin burai suno, tabhi you will be able to rectify’,” he said, responding to a question if the Prime Minister welcomed negative feedback.
“He listens to negative feedback, he rather encourages it,” Sarma said.
The newly sworn-in Chief Minister of Assam, and the BJP’s key leader in the Northeast, spoke on a range of issues, including measures in Assam to tackle the Covid pandemic, his political career, problems with the Congress leadership, relationship between the Centre and states, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, and Assam’s roadmap for the future.
Elaborating on Centre-state relations, Sarma also referred to the recent incident when West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee skipped a Cyclone Yaas review meeting called by PM Modi. “You have to respect the institution of the Prime Minister. The country will not survive like this. If a CM can say why should I wait 30 minutes for the PM… I think I have never heard such arguments in my entire political career. I have seen CMs after CMs sitting in Sonia Gandhi’s waiting room for two to three hours…,” he said.
“We should have kept aside our ego and we should have waited as long as required to greet and meet the PM,” he said. He highlighted that PM Modi had not gone to West Bengal to address any election rally but to help the state’s residents.
Speaking about federalism, the Chief Minister said, “Today, the Centre-state relationship is redefined in a way that a CM like Mamata Banerjee could dare to challenge the Central government.” Sarma, who was a minister in the Congress government in Assam since 2002 before shifting to the BJP, said the Central government today will continue developmental activity in any state irrespective of the political affiliation of the party in power.
He said that PM Modi has structured the Centre-state relationship in such a new way that states could work in a sphere of cooperative federalism.
Sarma said people who are unable to prove their Indian citizenship in the NRC and the associated judicial process might have to be disenfranchised before being deported to Bangladesh while assuring that as the state’s CM he is committed to work for each and every person without any discrimination.
On the NRC, which has as of now excluded over 19 lakh applicants, Sarma said the state government demands a re-verification of 20 per cent of the included names in border districts and 10 per cent elsewhere. He said that after being excluded from the NRC, people would get a chance to appeal at the state’s Foreigners’ Tribunals.
Once the judicial process was over and the court of law pronounced a particular person as a citizen of Bangladesh, he was sure that the government of India would be able to convince Bangladesh to take that person back.
“Till we send them back, we have to create a class of non-citizens. We have to allow them to enjoy fundamental rights, rights to health and education, rights to life and liberty, however they may be disenfranchised till the question of extradition to Bangladesh is finally resolved. And there must be some specific time frame,” Sarma said.
On the CAA, a legislation which is considered contentious in Assam, Sarma said he was a vocal supporter. “CAA is discharging our historical responsibility — it should not be seen through a communal framework,” he said.
When asked about his comment during the election campaign earlier this year that he did not want minority votes (referring to that as 35% of the state’s population), Sarma sought to make a distinction between a political campaigner and the Chief Minister.
“We did maximum welfare programs in the areas where the ’35 per cent’ people live. We have taken up construction of 8 lakh houses for Muslims in Assam. Roads, buildings, colleges, institutions after institutions are being built in areas where they live. But as a political person I know I am not going to get my vote out there. If I am a bit realistic and if I concentrate my resources in a place where I will get votes —what’s wrong in that? But today as a Chief Minister, if you ask me, whether I am going to work for that 35 per cent of the population or not — I will answer, ‘yes, I will work more and more for the welfare of that 35 per cent’. But as a BJP [politician] why will I go to seek vote where I am convinced that I am not going to get even a single vote,” Sarma said.